The escapism problem


On October 26, 1440, one of the richest men in Europe and a former leader of the French army, Gilles de Rais, was hanged, cut down, and burned. He, the legend has it, kidnapped, tortured, and killed hundreds of children. A young man of 36, a close comrade of Joan of Arc, that national heroine and Catholic saint, was one of the worst serial murderers the history ever known.

There are, though, those who believe that Gilles de Rais was framed. In France, at that time, around 20,000 boys and girls went missing every year, a huge number for a country of 18 million. In any district large enough there were parents who lost, or sold, their offspring. The judges were biased, revisionists say, and the evidence was based on hearsay or extracted through torture. No remains of the victims were found.

Yet the accusations were so lurid that a popular politician and a national hero - and a threat to the King’s power too - became a bogeyman for the generations of French and an inspiration for the Charles Perrault’s nightmarish Bluebeard.

Our rational mind escapes us when children’s lives are at stake. Emotions overwhelm our hearts and we tend to see Bluebeard reincarnated in the tragic experience of those children who, after being adopted abroad, died there, because their foreign parents turned out to be monsters. We frame, unjustly, the whole army of benevolent soon-to-be parents as soon-to-be abusers.

On July 9, 2008, Dima Yakovlev, a Russian boy only 18 months old recently adopted by an American family, died of hyperthermia after spending nine hours, a whole day, in a locked car, where his adoptive father had left him.

The child’s death enraged Russian society - but so did the fact that the man was acquitted. ‘The only true atonement here can only take place within his heart and soul,’ the judge said, ‘no prison term is going to cause more pain than that which he has already suffered.’

In 2009, seven year old Vanya Skorobogatov died of numerous traumas: the autopsy revealed that he suffered 80 external injuries, including 20 to the head. His American adopters, Michael and Nanette Craver, were charged with homicide, conspiracy, and child endangerment.

Since the 1990-s, fifteen Russian boys and girls have been killed by their American parents. Statistically, the tragic end of an adopted child is four times more likely in the US than in Russia. “We must keep our children in our country as much as possible and keep them safe here,” said Pavel Astakhov, the Russia’s children’s ombudsman.

In April Russia has frozen adoption by American citizens. America, the Russians say, is not safe for our children. International adoption, they should be saying, is not good at all.

The high rate of mortality of overseas adoption is just a part of the problem. Each family wishing to take a Russian child pays in average $20,000 in agency fees. Well-meaning foreigners, then, entice middle-men to make a steady supply of adoptable children, thereby unwittingly making adoption a business and children, a commodity.

In 2005, a housemistress of a pediatric hospital in Vladivostok was jailed for forging documents so that children available for adoption were not shown to potential Russian parents but only to foreigners with plenty of ready cash. There were other cases when medical records were falsified to prevent domestic adoption and keep a child available for the ‘international market’.

There are about 150,000 children in Russia on the adoption registry. Without adopters from abroad, it seems, they cannot find new parents. Yet foreigners take around 5,000 boys and girls every year, a drop in the ocean. That number can probably be increased, but not too much: around 80% of adopted children, both domestically and abroad, are under three years old. They comprise a tiny fraction of all children and could easily be settled in their home country.

International adoption, therefore, is a form of escapism, while the real problem is bringing up and educating older children, many of who have serious physiological or medical issues.

The rational view, perhaps, is that no one but Russians themselves should deal with parentless children, and that international adoption is a cure that can be worse than the disease.


April 20, 2010
text: E. Andreeva
picture: loutocky -



Is America good enough for Russian children?


I agree that international adoption is treacherous. The very fact that most adoptions come from countries like China, Cambodia, Ethiopia, and now Russia should alarm Russians.
It was evil to do such thing. I do not really know where the problem lies but I guess there is a big challenge in changing the character and point of views of man nowadays. Domestic adoption is one area we do not see numerous movie stars doing; however that's precisely what Sandra Bullock is finalizing. It's not that movie stars don't adopt American born children, it's just that when they adopt from foreign countries we seem to hear a great deal more news over it. Sandra Bullock and her partner Jesse James started the adoption process in years past, but the procedure is just now becoming completed. The twist to this story; Sandra is actually adopting the little one as a single mother, showing the world her and Jesse are not remaining together in the end.